The U.S. Forest Service has laid out a new policy requiring local Forest Service managers to designate specific areas that are open to snowmobiles as a means of keeping them from operating on ski routes, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The rule will take effect on February 27 and will apply to all national forests.
The policy requires forest managers to publish over-snow vehicle maps using existing designations or maps worked out through public input. It is designed to reduce competition between snowmobile riders and skiers, and came about in part following complaints from skiers. According to the Mercury News, the Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA), an Idaho-based backcountry skier group, filed a lawsuit due to concerns that more powerful snowmobiles were ruining snow previously accessible only to skiers. A 2013 federal district court ruling in Boise required the Forest Service to dictate where and when over-snow vehicles can be used on its lands.
“You can’t have both uses in the same area and allow for each user to get the experience they’re looking for,” Mark Menlove, executive director of WWA, told the Mercury News.
Chad Sluder, president of the Sawtooth Snowmobile Club in Bellevue, Idaho, told the Mercury News that his group would weigh in during the public process. “We don’t want to lose anymore ground,” he said. “It’s the ongoing battle between the skiers and snowmobilers. They don’t want us there, and we have every right to be there.”
The Forest Service estimates that nearly 4 million people ride snowmobiles on national forest land, but Julie Thomas, spokesperson for Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest, told the Mercury News that although riders and skiers have butted heads in the past, they’ve worked out their differences and avoided problems. “The national forest system lands are for the public to use and enjoy,” she said. “Our population is growing and we have a lot of people out there, but there’s room for everybody.”